Graduated with Two Titles (Master’s Student & Mom). Why not?

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Sarah and her family in New Zealand. Source: Personal documentation
Sarah and her family in New Zealand. Source: Personal documentation

“Experience pregnancy in New Zealand was a blessing and a challenge at the same time. In addition to that, everything that happened during the pregnancy until I gave birth to my son and finally submitted my thesis was life-changing for my little family and me. So here is my story about what I had to go through to graduate with two titles; a mom and a Master of Science. I hope that my experience is beneficial for you preparing to have children while pursuing your degree.”

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How it was like to be a pregnant student

The first thing I did to confirm my pregnancy was making an appointment with a General Practitioner (GP). The day I met the GP was one that I could not forget. It was not because I was that happy to have someone assured me that I was pregnant, but I was taken aback with her question: ‘are you happy with your pregnancy? If not, then I am sure we could talk about your options’. If you are reading this and are in a country where abortion is legal, you might want to prepare yourself to answer such a question. When I gave my answer, she referred me to register at a community midwife to guide me during my pregnancy and labour. At that time, so many things crossed my mind, and I realised how big of a responsibility being a pregnant student is; you have to take care of yourself, the little human in you and your thesis, all at the same time.

Sarah and her child at The University of Auckland. Source: Personal documentation
Sarah and her child at The University of Auckland. Source: Personal documentation

Knowing how stressful the situation could be, I told my close friends and supervisor to find comfort. I was also hoping to have a realistic conversation with my supervisor about how my thesis would progress. Fortunately, my supervisor is a humble and considerate person. He offered to help me with all administrative work, especially when I needed my maternity leave and extended my study. He also agreed to slow my thesis pace so I could take care of my pregnancy and have reasonable progress at the same time. He assured me that his research group would definitely help me with two things; taking care of my baby while I was writing my thesis at Uni and helping me out with proofreading. Such attention coming from non-family members successfully made me carry on with my duty as a student and mom-to-be without any burden. So if you are now or about to be in the same situation as me then, try to reach out to your closest circle and share your burden and make sure your supervisor understands your situation.

Maternity care in NZ

I did not plan to marry anyone when I started studying, let alone expecting a child. Fortunately, maternity care and childcare in New Zealand have very clear guidelines and an accessible website to answer all my needs as a pregnant woman who basically knew nothing about healthy pregnancy and being a parent. In the previous part, I mentioned a referral from my GP to register with a community midwife. I looked up all information on local websites and registered myself, and planned my labour with a midwife at Greenlane Clinical Centre (see https://www.adhb.health.nz/our-services/a-z-services/maternity-care/).

Greenlane Clinical Center. Source: Greenlance Clinical Center website
Greenlane Clinical Center. Source: Greenlance Clinical Center website

I think it was essential to understand how the health system works and read as much information as possible so we could prepare everything to support the birth of our children. Therefore, if you are preparing to have children or bring your kids overseas, I would strongly suggest checking the health system information at your destination. I believe most advanced countries provide a system alike to give out information.

Surviving a student-mom life

I spent my pregnancy period in New Zealand with no family or other blood relatives. Accordingly, I created a support system to help me in my first year of being a mom. During the pregnancy, my office friends and my supportive husband had been a great help. Because of them, I was able to read academic papers, did my fieldwork, learned about parenting from books and finished the first four chapters of my thesis before delivering my baby. However, when my baby arrived, this mini support system could not help much, with me being a first-time-parent and all my office friends were younger than me (and unmarried). Thus, I thought I had to reach out to older and more experienced people in the community.

The University of Auckland gave me five months of parental leave so I could get my life as a student-mom in order. During this period, I established more profound relationships with some Indonesian families who had resided in NZ for a long time. I learned many mom-hacks to keep my balance as a mom and working (studying) person from them. They provided me with food from time to time so that I could use my cooking time for writing. They also volunteered to take care of my son if I had a deadline during the day.

Office Support System at The University of Auckland. Source: Personal documentation
Office Support System at The University of Auckland. Source: Personal documentation

In the first three months of being a mom, I could not do anything with my thesis as I was occupied with my son’s irregular schedule and focused on strengthening my willpower to finish my study. It might sound insignificant, but trust me, determination is important during this time as many women give up their studies or careers to be committed to mom’s life. It was relatively more difficult to continue studying for people who are far from blood relatives. Back then, leaving NZ without an academic degree was not an option because I had to be responsible for my scholarship sponsor. Therefore, I relied on the people around me to keep me sane and gave me time to finish my thesis.

 

I do not really remember how I could focus on writing my thesis every day at 4 AM. I could not recall either how I could submit a thesis progress report to my supervisor each time he asked for it. What I know is that if you are far from your comfort zone and resources (family, your own country, familiar environment), you should create another for your advantage. That is why I believe that establishing good relationships with others, especially when you are overseas, is an investment. Having good people surrounding me during difficult times in foreign countries was a critical factor that determined the probability of finishing my degree.

From this momentous experience, I learned that becoming a mom and a graduate student at the same time is not easy at all. For me, it was not possible at all if it were not for all the people who helped me throughout the process, from my husband, supervisor, office friends to Indonesian residents in NZ. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I could not agree more.

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Editor: Yogi Saputra Mahmud

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